Expats in Europe one step nearer voting rights in their home country

by Ray Clancy on January 30, 2014

Expats in the European Union could retain their right to vote in their home country after the European Commission issued new guidance to member states that currently have rules preventing their citizens from voting in national or regional elections because they live in another EU country.

At the moment Denmark, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and the United Kingdom have all applied voting regimes which prevent their citizens from taking part in national or regional elections as soon as they leave their home country.


In a recent Eurobarometer, two thirds of respondents thought it unfair to lose the right to vote in their country of origin because they reside in another EU country

There are other Member States which allow their EU nationals to maintain the right to vote under certain conditions, such as Austria, which requires overseas citizens to periodically renew their registration on the electoral roll, or Germany, which requires citizens to be familiar with and affected by national politics.

According to the Commission, such rules negatively affect the EU’s free movement rights and go against the founding premise of European citizenship which is meant to give citizens additional rights, not fewer.

The Commission is inviting member states to enable their citizens abroad to retain their right to vote in national elections if they demonstrate a continuing interest in the political life of their country, for example by applying to remain on the electoral roll.

‘The right to vote is one of the fundamental political rights of citizenship. It is part of the very fabric of democracy. Depriving citizens of their right to vote once they move to another EU country is effectively tantamount to punishing citizens for having exercised their right to free movement. Such practices risk making them second class citizens,’ said Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner.

‘In letters, petitions and citizens’ dialogues, citizens have made clear to us just how important this issue is to them. This is why we are calling on Member States to show greater flexibility and are issuing proportionate guidance to the five countries concerned so that citizens can get back on the electoral roll of their home country. I hope Member States will be ready to address these very concrete concerns, because disenfranchisement is a big deal for the individuals concerned,’ she added.

Reding said that citizens who move abroad can easily maintain the links to their home country. ‘They follow the current affairs in their home country, they are interested in what’s happening there and follow on TV, radio and on the Internet. They can travel home very easily and very often they pay taxes or draw their pension in their country of origin,’ she explained.

She also pointed out that in a recent Eurobarometer on electoral rights, two thirds of respondents thought it was unfair to lose their right to vote in their country of origin simply because they reside in another EU country.

Rules for voting rights vary considerably. In the UK, citizens are disenfranchised if they have not been registered to vote at an address in the UK in the previous 15 years. In Cyprus, citizens are disenfranchised if they have not resided in Cyprus during the six months immediately preceding national elections. Danish citizens are only allowed to remain on the electoral roll if they register their intention to return to Denmark within two years.

One person backing votes for expats is British politician Sir Roger Gale who believes UK citizens should be given the right to vote in perpetuity.  ‘In the interests of democracy all UK citizens, wherever they may reside, should have the right to vote in both UK parliamentary elections and in referendums,’ he said.

‘In most developed democracies citizens have the right to vote in perpetuity. In the UK that right, for those overseas, is limited to 15 years and the registration system is far too complex,’ he pointed out.

‘I know that the Cabinet Office is working on a simplification of the registration system and I hope that we shall have a manifesto commitment for 2015 so that at the very least we can legislate to give expats the absolute right to vote in an in/out EU Referendum by 2017. That is the least that we can do for people who in many cases have paid UK taxes throughout their lives, may have fought for our Country and have children and grandchildren still living in Britain,’ he added.

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